Students explain what Ruth Anne Clark Award has meant for their work

The Ruth Anne Clark Graduate Student Scholar Award Fund was established to honor Professor Clark's 40 years of distinguished service to the department. Over the years, the award has made it possible for many Illinois graduate students to conduct their research. We heard from some of them about the work they were able to conduct thanks to this award.

Some students used award funds to recruit research participants. Bryan Abendschein found this to be an important part of his dissertation, which investigates the effects of a stroke on romantic relationships. “To gather data,” Abendschein explained, “I have been conducting individual interviews with romantic partners.” The funds provided a financial incentive for those who chose to be interviewed, but, as Abendschein commented, “it is even more important to show gratitude for those who participate in research studies and the Ruth Anne Clark Award made that possible.”

It can be important to show that research findings are applicable to large groups of people, so recruiting participants can help strengthen existing projects. Tobias Reynolds-Tylus studies public health campaigns, and the Ruth Anne Clark Award allowed him to recruit participants who were beyond his local Illinois context. Reynolds-Tylus used the funds to collect data from over 600 adults who viewed and responded to a series of health campaign messages. “[The award] allowed me to replicate and extend my findings,” Reynold-Tylus said, and provided him with data that he can use in future research.

Archival documents like personal correspondence can provide illuminating evidence for research. Image courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library, Hyde Park, NY.

Communication graduate students often use historical records in their research, and many have used award funds to travel to archives or libraries to access these materials. Donovan Bisbee is writing a dissertation on the relationship between American presidents and the Supreme Court, and recently took a research trip to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. “The award enabled me to spend four full days studying archival materials related to Roosevelt's attempt to 'pack' the Supreme Court with friendly Justices in 1937,” Bisbee said. The “thousands of pages of documents” he read included “documents relating to Roosevelt’s ninth Fireside Chat, the formation of the court-packing plan, and correspondence from the American people.”

These historical materials can rarely be viewed online, and so graduate students rely on research funding to support their travel to archives. “I used the Ruth Anne Clark Award to travel to the MIT archives to analyze project reports from the early days of digital computing,” said doctoral student Katie Bruner. The opportunity to travel to an archive can lead to unexpected findings. “In addition to examining the written materials, I found that talking to the archivists and other researchers at the archive to be a really valuable experience,” Bruner remarked. “I never would have had that without the funding to visit the archive in person.”

Archives like the Institute Archives at MIT (pictured here) house historical materials that cannot be viewed online. Image courtesy of Katie Bruner.

Research supported by the Ruth Anne Clark Award has also benefited undergraduate Communication students. Doctoral student Jillian Moga used her award funds to hire undergraduate students to transcribe interviews she conducted at Illinois. “I have many audio-recordings of different events and dialogues that need transcribed before I can analyze my data.” Moga explained that the Ruth Anne Clark Award has meant more than just research assistance. “I am so grateful for the award,” she said. “The opportunity to mentor undergraduate students while I developed a robust corpus is invaluable.”

If you would like to support student research by donating to the Ruth Anne Clark Award fund, you may do so here.